Hamilton

So a few months ago I made the mistake of taking my brother’s advice and listening to the soundtrack for Hamilton, a broadway show about the life of Alexander Hamilton in case there’s anyone left on this earth that hasn’t heard of it by now.

It’s extremely catchy and I’ve had it stuck in my head ever since. I was listening to it at work so I’ve absorbed more of the tunes than the plot points, but as someone who’s all too nerdy and loves musicals I really should have known this would happen and forfeit the opportunity to complain any further.

That said, I saw an interesting piece of news back in November regarding the Hamilton “controversy” with Vice President-elect Mike Pence attending a Broadway performance, getting booed and being told by one of the actors to remember minorities when he heads to Washington.

In the days that followed the news was all over it, Trump was tweeting, there were #boycottHamilton hastags everywhere. Yet all I could think of is how I live in an age of manufactured drama. It was really not a newsworthy issue but it was written of repetitively, commented on endlessly, used as an example of the deep divides plaguing this country and no one wanted to be left out of the know so that they could provide an opinion when called upon.

The haste and sensationalism of the 24-hour news cycle combined with the interconnectivity to news sites and social media from Smartphones (which go everywhere with you) has done an interesting thing to our society, it has blurred the line between news and gossip and created a colossal venue to manufacture meaningless drama as it churns crisis after crisis.  It turns molehills into mountains, it favors speed over accuracy, and perhaps most importantly it decides what gets talked about and what does not.

I point this out not to discuss the trend, which you have more than likely noticed, I point it out to discuss the far more interesting question that I got to wondering about this morning as I stumbled across yet another Hamilton article which is: why?

Why manufacture drama?

Well for one because it’s intensely profitable and people buy it. But why is it so especially lucrative in the United States? The answer that strikes me as closest to the truth is the decline of organized religion and I’m happy to make my case because I’m sure there are many of you who think that’s a serious stretch.

There are many secular “peace” lovers in this world who critique religion because in their minds it leads to nothing but violence and vehement disagreements between people of different religions. However, there is a huge gap in worldview between those who are purely secular and those who are religious that goes even beyond their belief/disbelief in God, and that is their view of the afterlife. In other words, whether or not you believe in God and the type of God you believe in shapes how you view what happens to you after you die. For example, one of the best things about being a Catholic is not my hazy belief in some vague paradise but my eager anticipation of being perfectly united with God Who is Love and this anticipation frames the way I view the world, the purpose of my existence, and plays a huge role in determining my actions (or at least how I desire to act!)

In the past different religions would differ on some of these questions (in no particular order):

  1. Who is the true God?
  2. What is the nature of the true God?
  3. What happens after death?
  4. What is the purpose of life?
  5. What should humans do with their lives/how should they act?

These questions matter and that is why disagreements on these questions were passionate because they carried with them eternal consequences. There is a lot of great theology from the eras of which I am speaking about.

The modern phenomenon is interesting because I don’t meet terribly many true atheists but I meet a lot of people who simply never ask themselves the above questions because they have been taught from an early age that the above questions don’t matter. They don’t matter either because they are explicitly told there is no afterlife or told that because nothing about the afterlife can be concretely proven using the scientific method it should not be believed in at all. It’s a clever component of the new atheism, the argument that avoids saying that God does not exist but instead purports that it does not matter whether God exists or not because the things in life that matter most are the concrete; what you can see, feel, touch, smell, and hear, what can be analyzed and proven “impartially” etc. In short, it confines existence to the purely material and since God is not purely material He is rendered inconsequential.

And while John Lennon may have dreamed of the day this would come I find I would rather die the death of a martyr to be with God than live in the prison of the material such a world creates. While you probably find that sentence more than a little dramatic (especially knowing as you do now of my penchant for musical theater) I am completely sincere. The world with no more religion is the world I was raised to live in. A world where you prepare as a child not to be a morally good person but for college in order to have a lucrative career to buy material goods, a world where your legacy and worth is tied to achievement alone rather than the inherent gift of existence granted by God, and a world especially of manufactured drama. A dull and idle existence that is rootless and tied to nothing and feels the need to create problems where there are none in order to foster the sense of purpose it lacks. A life of empty distractions, gossip and scandal, entertainment and material luxuries, lust over love, all designed to keep you from ever asking yourself the above questions or even wondering about them at all, because those questions are designed to lead you from the material to the eternal, to everlasting joy, true peace, and a love that satisfies beyond anything your material senses could ever comprehend.

And I confess that sometimes in this world of sleepy and comfortable materialism I find myself wanting to shout “wake up!” because these are the questions you were born to pursue, not the passing and idle gossip of the “news,” not the merely scientific and material. We each will only get so much time, why waste it on what does not last?

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Guy Who Parked In Handicapped Space Gets What He Deserved

I can’t say I’ve ever parked in a handicapped space. Although I admit I was very tempted one evening when I was using my mother’s car and discovered that my grandma (whom she had been travelling with) had left her handicapped sticker on the visor.

Whenever it’s dark out I like to park close to my destination, a natural precaution of young females travelling alone who don’t want to end up on the news the following day. However, my destination that night was the gym and I just couldn’t stomach the thought of an actual handicapped person seeing me return to my car from that location where I had the perfect freedom to sit, stand, lift or run as the various machines required. So I parked somewhere else a little further back feeling bad that I’d even considered it.

A little while later I was on facebook and I saw a video of a man who did not resist the hptemptation to park in a handicapped space even though he did not need it and did not have any handicapped sticker. In protest of the action, someone had covered his car in all blue post-it notes and had used white post-it notes to depict the familiar symbol of the white stick figure in a wheelchair. The person had, in effect, transformed the entire vehicle into a handicapped sign.

When the driver returned to his car a crowd had formed and they were laughing hysterically and cheering as he tried to remove the post-its and drive away in humiliation. Many had their phones to film it as well, which of course is how I ended up seeing the encounter.

It struck me that this is the merciless morality of my generation. It is a morality without an underlying moral code. Just a public mob policing each other in civic virtue in order to encourage conformity to public consensus of which actions are “good” and which are “bad” because we prefer relativism based on the capricious whim of the people to morality based on the law of God.

I don’t know what sort of man the driver is because I’ve never met him. I don’t know what sort of day he was having because it was not revealed in the short video I watched. But the people in the crowd knew exactly what type of man he was because they judged him as a person based on this one action and decided that because they hated the action they would also hate the man.

I reject that model, first and foremost as a Christian, because I have always been taught to fight hatred with love. To hate the sin, but never the sinner. This model also gives you something that the model I described above does not give: humility.

Because I have said it before and I am certain I will say it again, it is impossible to judge someone without loving yourself a little more and the other person a little less. The crowd did more than enjoy with loud cheers the spectacle of another man’s humiliation, they reveled in their shared hatred of him and were united in their elite claim to never having parked in a handicapped space, or at the very least not being caught at it and condemned like this particular driver. This frightens me. Not only because it is un-Christian but because it is a cowardice that cloaks itself in reason, to the point that I believe many would argue against my synopsis and defend the crowd’s actions as reasonable. The video itself is titled, “Guy Who Parked His Car In Handicapped Parking Space Gets What He Deserved

Hate is always reasonable because it is founded on a reason which to your mind, and maybe the minds of your peers, justifies you in hating that person/action etc. Every person has this capacity and yet I would argue that the best judges are not the most reasonable ones who swoop in for cold hard justice, but the ones who call for mercy because mercy is a check against human nature. Mercy is an unreasonable and inexplicable desire to love one’s neighbor even when he has made a bad choice. Trusting that in spite of an error in judgement there might still be something redeemable in him.

I point this out because I don’t want a world ruled by a mob like the one I saw on that video. A purely secular courtroom based on the timelessly old adage “an eye for an eye.” Because I would rather walk the hard road, to be called a naive, idealistic, sucker who sets myself up for being disappointed by others and is swindled by cries for mercy from undeserving jerks trying to masquerade as good people than to be the type of person I saw in that video, one who revels in the fall of another person because they don’t believe they’re also capable of falling.

I Don’t Believe in Political Saviors

I get accused of being highly idealistic quite a lot.

It’s a fair accusation as I am highly idealistic. Due to my strong belief in Heaven, when I look at the world I live in I see ideals half realized. I see people longing to be loved and who I believe will be loved far beyond what they can imagine and well beyond what they deserve; because I believe them to be created by God who is love. I see purpose, promise and adventure behind what strikes others as common or even repulsive in its poverty.

But today I wanted to discuss a different sort of idealism, the political idealism that always sweeps around the presidential election season. Regardless of your personal politics, the quest for a political savior to single-handedly solve all the world’s problems by November the following year drives.me.crazy. Not only does social media make the process even more obnoxious, but the waves of idealism are too much even for me.

For starters, I can’t stand the “It’s Time for a Woman” President similar to last year’s “It’s Time for an African American” President. Would it be a cool and historic thing to have that happen? Most certainly. But do you know what I think it’s time for? Something cool, retro, and that the world hasn’t seen for decades and certainly not in my lifetime: a good president.

In my limited experience, American politics is a cross between a joke and a bad dream you can’t wake up from.

But it’s not just the establishment’s fault. Networks wouldn’t insist on showing those “debates” on T.V. if no one watched them. I never know who is more ambiguous, the voters or the politicians themselves. Most I encounter claim to want change but never talk about what sort of change or how to attain it. Instead, they all seem to prefer falling in love with the flowery rhetoric that requires no actual commitment because it’s easier than agreeing on an acceptable standard to determine what would constitute acceptable results/progress for any sort of change in the first place. Politicians can’t be held accountable if the people themselves give them nothing tangible to accomplish. Politicians won’t offer anything tangible because true change, true action, would risk alienating certain members of their voter base as it is impossible to please everyone.

If this weren’t true to some degree than Donald Trump would have zero appeal to voters as a candidate. While his idea to build a wall to keep immigrants may well be the worst, most un-American thing I’ve ever heard it is something tangible. Walls are either built or they are not. He doesn’t waste voters time talking about how walls are nice, or how walls work for some people but not others and how we need to respect all people’s opinions on walls.

And Trump is a frightening prospect because I don’t see any love or respect for anything other than himself and selfish men do not make good leaders. Neither do selfish women, in the spirit of equality.

But on the opposite end of the spectrum, the true inspiration behind this post was that so many on Twitter today were “feeling the Bern” and promoting him as a moral candidate by virtue of his pushing for a moral economy.

This is exactly the type of feel good rhetoric that makes me sad to be a millennial because we fall for it like the idiotic rats following the pied piper to their death because they were so enamored with his song. (That’s just one of my standard corny metaphors used to illustrate my point I do not mean to imply that Bernie Sanders would kill any millennials). “Feelin the Bern” is the perfect example of how everybody gets so caught up in their ideals, such as the vague notions of love and connectivity he promotes in his speaking engagements, that they lose touch with reality. He may have an eloquent message but I would rather be sold an honest truth than a pleasing lie. Because in spite of what the current culture would have you believe you can’t mandate morals. You can’t make a moral economy by forcing vaguely ethical requirements on corporations. The truth that no one wants to discuss is that you make a moral economy by making moral men and women and the unpopularity of this truth, I would argue, is directly tied to the fact that this job cannot be done by the state. And the reason that the state cannot do this is because it adheres to Enlightenment principals of liberty and a government neutral in matters of religion. However, the interesting result of that concept is that government tries to promote a morally good action divorced from a larger moral framework, and it ends up looking a lot like the cartoon below:

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Photo courtesy of churchpop.com

And it never works. Ideals are never realized and people become cynical because politics constantly promises more than it can deliver, and in my opinion that’s why all political people ever do is talk in varying degrees of hope and condescension.

Talk of how others should fix something, how others should change, how others should stop being ignorant in their love of Trump… In short, talk of how the world would be a better place if it was full of people more like themselves.

And I can’t stand it because this pride blinds to the only thing that has ever changed the world for the better: love. Yet this change they truly seek is not going to be dramatic, global, sweeping, or entertaining. It’s not going to have a bumper sticker or a benefit or a stage of any kind because none of those things have the power to change people’s hearts, which is the only way to make the world a better place.

What changes people’s hearts is when they say no to the world. No to the temptation to say something awful about their neighbors, no to crappy television, no to the temptation to pride and superiority, and yes to those brave and wild moments when they go out on a limb and actually love their neighbor even though it might be the opposite of what they feel like doing.

And my belief in this simple observation comes from the fact that I am a lifelong Catholic and was in a secular service sorority and, unlike vague political mandates, I have seen this method work time and time again. It is arguably the prime reason I am religious but not at all political because politics tells me to trust the power of the state whereas religion tells me to trust the power of God, and only one of those things has ever had the power to change my heart and open it up past my selfish nature to see in blazing color the needs of others. This may not have changed the entire world but it certainly changed mine and maybe my tiny corner of Pittsburgh is better because of it.

So now if I look remarkably calm in spite of the political mess we seem inevitably headed towards you can know it is because I’m not disappointed or even that surprised because I don’t believe in saviors.